Workers race to clean up oil spill on California coast

Adam Nagourney, Richard Perez-Pena and Clifford Krauss
Oil from a broken pipeline covered rocks near Refugio State Beach on Wednesday north of Goleta, Calif. Credit David Mcnew/Getty Images

GOLETA, Calif. — Refugio State Beach is one of the treasures of the California coast, a little-known curve of beach in the hills that on weekends like this one — Memorial Day — would be sprinkled with people who made their way up from Santa Barbara, about 20 miles down the Pacific Coast.

But not on Thursday. Refugio was filled not with vacationers, but with teams of workers in white coveralls and masks, scooping up sand fouled with oil that had washed in after a pipeline broke earlier this week. The smell of oil, not surf, was in the air as Coast Guard riggers off shore, using yellow buoys, tried to corral and clean up the oil before it reached the shore.

Along the beach, rocks — the kind on which children would typically scamper — were sticky with oil, and officials said they might pose the biggest cleanup problem in the days ahead. The only people here were the cleanup crews and the news media; this beach and one other, El Capitan, were shut down by the state’s parks department.